Melissa Etheridge: Greatest Hits-The Road Less Traveled
I run to feel
I run for the truth
For all that is real
-"I Run For Life"
Before the invention of cd burning you would find artists leaving certain songs off Best Of collections just so you had to continue to buy those particular albums just to get various songs. Over the last few years, artists have become smarter when releasing these packages knowing that if they leave certain songs off, fans are more likely to download them and make their own collections. This is why I was surprised when I saw the track listing for the Melissa Etheridges new Greatest Hits package. After seeing it was a one disc affair all I could think of is how appropriate the album title is; The Road Less Traveled. Surprisingly, Etheridge is nearly two decades into her career and this is her first best of package. Of the 17 tracks on the album, almost a third of them are new recordings, which left a mere 12 tracks to represent her 8 studio albums with the period between 1996 and 2004 represented by a meager two songs. In fact, after witnessing Melissa give a rousing and spirited three-plus hour performance in March of 2004, I took all of her cds and made my own Best of 2 cd package.
Being the eternal optimist I am, I decided I would give this package a fair shot before I reviewed it as a half baked hits collection from judging it by the track list. As I threw the disc in my car player, on the way to a Bruce Springsteen concert no less, I was stunned at how well the The Road Less Traveled flowed. Hits packages are usually just that -all the biggest and best songs and usually they dont have the feel of an album or an artist who is telling a singular story. However, The Road Less Traveled amazingly has the feel of a singular experience and not a commercial exercise. It kicks off with a cover of Tom Pettys Refugee and while Im a big believer that a cover is usually never as good as the original, Melissas version perfectly sets the tone of the disc as its a powerful opening statement. Her rendition of Piece of My Heart is equally striking as she inhabits the spirit of Janis Joplin. The rebel rousing performance of the song at last years Grammys was beyond breathtaking it was inspirational. Its rare for an artist to cover a song and make it their own, yet even more astonishing is the fact she made two made these two covers distinctive and her own. Even though she did not write them, they both feel like they are part of her ongoing story as a human and artist.
The remaining three new songs were just as startling, as I figured they would be merely filler. Instead, they are revitalizing statements of an artist with a reinvigorated spirit. Christmas In America, This Is Not Goodbye and I Run For Life are commendable additions to her rousing catalog and deservingly belong on this package. Christmas In America extends beyond a simple holiday tune but one with meaning and resonance as a plea for our soldiers overseas to come home without the song taking on a left or right wing approach. This Is Not Goodbye is a life affirming ballad based upon Melissas real life experience of dealing with cancer. What could be a song of simplicity is handled through a fiery vocal that hits home to anyone who has ever lost a loved one to cancer. This song very easily could have been over-the top, but she restrained herself and as a result the lyrics shine through making the song all that more compelling. I Run For Life may contain her greatest vocal to date as you feel comfort and hope in her lyrics as she makes you feel like you are hearing something not just emotional but coming from deep within her. This is someone who feels like they looked death in the eye and came out on top. Its a tribute to anyone who has ever had to endure the loss of a loved one to cancer. These songs could have been viewed as sentimental trite, but these songs cut to the bone. They showcase an artist at her best.
The remainder of the set leans heavily on her 1988 self-titled debut and her 1994 breakthrough Yes I Am. The crucial hits are here, but many other essential album tracks are missing (I Want To Be In Love, Your Little Secret, Meet Me In The Dark, Scarecrow, Tuesday Morning, Breakdown, Lover Please). I was really surprised Melissa chose to go the route with a package that consists of only one cd. There are even songs like Dance Without Sleeping and Keep It Precious that are profound pieces of prose that stand among her best, which most people probably know but are not even aware that it is Melissa is singing. A better alternative would have been to release a 2-cd package with all of her hits, chosen album tracks and some b-sides and rarities to fill in the gaps.
Missing songs aside, its a bold package to release. Not quite a new album, a Hits package, or an EP, however it succeeds when it should not. The three new compositions are nothing daring or edgy, however, they showcase what Etheridge does best, write heart tugging life-affirming songs. Since her experience with cancer last year, she has come out on the other side with a distinctive perspective on life, which is why The Road Less Traveled is so appealing. It catches Melissa Etheridge looking back at her past with an intense direction towards the future. Dont look at this as the closing of a chapter, but an in-between one, where the story is still evolving.
Album Grade: B+
Remember her remember me
We will be running as we have before
Running for answers
Running for more
-"I Run For Life"
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